It’s a Small World After All (And in Verse, No Less!)
Over at Calling Caldecott, they recently took time out to consider international picture books that are ineligible. We could probably do something similar here, as there seems to be quite a few translated books for middle grade and young adults: AS RED AS BLOOD, MARINA, NINE OPEN ARMS, VANGO, WHY WE TOOK THE CAR–not to mention the regular flow of Australian, British, and Canadian imports that we get. But we since we have several eligible titles set in distant lands, why don’t we focus on those? Incidentally, they all happen to be written in verse.
Clinging to the free end of Ma’s sari
I follow the tired shuffle of the other pilgrims’ feet
into the cool darkness of the temple,
where sweat-smell mingles with the fragrance of incense
This novel takes us to India where we meet Veda. Her parents want her to be an engineer; she just wants to be a dancer. She’s good at it, too, until a tragic accident makes her an amputee, and she has to learn to dance again with the help of a prosthetic leg and a new dance teacher.
Finally, I am twelve.
Old enough to wear a toob
As soon as I wake,
Muma whispers a birthday wish.
“Blessings for all the years to come, Amira.”
Next we go to Sudan where we meet Amira. Oh, how she wishes she could be an engineer. She’s expected to be a good wife and mother when she grows up. She desperately wants an education, but when soldiers attack her village, and she becomes a refugee that dreams seems as far away as every–until she receives the gift of a red pencil.
Our mountain stood tall,
like the finger that points.
Our corn plants grew in fields,
Thick and wide as a thumb.
Our village sat in the folded-between,
in that spot where pinch something sacred,
to keep it still.
Our mountain stood guard at our backs.
We slept at night in its bed.
And our world tour ends with Carlos in Guatemala circa 1981 in the midst of the civil war. When soldiers attack his village Carlos escapes into the jungle and must journey to his grandmother’s community to warn them of the impending danger.
All of these books were well reviewed, and worth considering and discussing here. None of them quite rises to the level of most distinguished for me, but I’m happy to entertain arguments to the contrary.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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